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Negotiations with fear, obsession, and the D.C. police
*All the names in this story have been changed.
Aug. 12, 1999: I’m having cocktails with a few friends in my Adams Morgan living room, waiting for the phone to ring. We’re chatting, smoking, and gossiping, but it’s not a slumber party. Tonight, I’m hosting a stalker party. We’re waiting for a phone call from D.C. Police Detective Debra.*
Tonight, she and her colleagues are supposed to pick up a young man who has decided I am a very important person in his life.
And for that simple reason, he has become very important in mine.
The women at the stalker party are playing a drinking game, taking turns guessing what will turn up when the police enter the stalker’s house. Someone suggests a subterranean torture chamber; she is bested by the player who thinks there will be a creepy altar covered with Christmas lights and pictures of me. The grand prize goes to my sister—he has a thing for her as well—who describes in chilling detail the exact replica of our house he has prepared for us—crafted entirely out of his own feces. We all squeal and roll around. If this were a porn flick, we would be taking off our shirts and having a pillow fight right about now. (The party ends up being besides the point. The D.C. police don’t get their—uh, my—man.)
The scene would be funny, and it almost is, but it is also sickening how much one lone psycho has come to preoccupy our lives. By making a night of it, we are forgetting—just for a second—that this has been the most terrifying and frustrating month of our lives. But there have been many months nearly as bad. This didn’t start in August 1999. It started in August 1995.
When I showed up at my job at a downtown shop four years ago, in the late summer of 1995, I wasn’t surprised to see a new employee sitting behind the counter. We had a high turnover rate at our place. We hired the semi-bohemian types who tend to run off and join the Peace Corps or lose themselves in a peyote-induced vision quest, so new clerks were a routine sight. Ron was introduced to me as the newly hired brother of an ex-employee, and I went about my business.
As the days went by, it became clear that Ron just wasn’t working out. His sketchy behavior and habit of sitting on a stool all day glowering and taking sips off a pocket flask didn’t fit our idea of “multitasking.” I don’t know if he was fired or simply stopped coming to work; it really makes no difference. Lots of guys like him came and went.
A few weeks later, I was sitting in my living room and answered the phone.
“This is Ron.”
I scanned my mental files. Who? Did I go to college with this person? Break his heart? Owe him money?
“From the store.” His nondescript blond, blue-eyed image slowly formed in my mind as I made the dim connection. Oh yeah—that nutjob from work. How did he get my number? Of course, I thought, the employee phone list up on the wall. I greeted him civilly, but made sure to inject a why-are-you-calling-me tone to my unenthusiastic response. I wasn’t ready for what popped out of his mouth next.
“I just really wanted to tell you, because you need to know, that I resent the way you are trying to seduce me. It’s not fair.”
“What?! What the hell are you talking about?” I fired back. My mind raced, trying to think of what I had done to give this loonbag the impression that I had ever even thought about him at all, let alone
“I know what you’re up to.” I could hear him breathing. He seemed weirdly excited, and I felt a faint tingle of revulsion. OK, that’s enough, I said
“I don’t know what this is about Ron, OK? Don’t you ever call me again!” I yelled. I slammed the phone down. I lit a cigarette. The phone rang again. I stared at it, debating. I finally answered it. It was Ron again. This time he was begging.
“Please don’t hang up. I need to talk to you. You’re in my head, and I’m really fucking sick of it!”
“What? What do you mean?”
“You’re sending me messages—they’re in my head!” He was shouting now. “I’ll do it! I’m gonna do it!”
I sat up, gripping the receiver tighter. A tiny cramp of fear started in my belly. I quickly pushed it down. Deep.
“I don’t know what you are talking about. I’m not doing anything to you—goodbye!” I lit another cigarette and sat there, smoking and wondering how I had ended up on Ron’s list.
I am by no means a timid or easily frightened person. I am a hard-drinking, trash-talking, pool-shooting, Redskins-loving D.C. native who has hitchhiked to Ocean City on a bet and put my two cents in during a bar brawl. I’ve studied martial arts for 12 years and have taken practical street-fighting and self-defense courses. I think that’s a reasonable approach for a young woman who intends to spend the rest of her life in the city. I’ve made it through life by looking everything in front of me right in the eye. But since Ron got my number, I’ve gone from a warrior princess to a jumpy agoraphobic, complete with my very first Prozac prescription.
By late fall of 1995, Ron’s calls were a memory—almost. After finishing up at the shop, I bartended at a nearby restaurant a couple of nights a week. The money was nice, but I did it mostly for the low comedy the place produced. I liked the place, and it liked me back. I didn’t work the busy main floor, but the smaller, seedier, upstairs bar. Pool table, video trivia game, TV always running, the works. My small but loyal clientele chain-smoked and drank beer and shots in the semidarkness. Just beer and shots, because that’s all I would agree to make. Every once in a while a newcomer to our little tribe would wander innocently in and ask for a blue Hawaiian or a sea breeze, only to be met with scornful, mocking laughter from the entire place. If the person had the balls to laugh along and get around to ordering a shot, he or she was welcomed into the family for a night.
It wasn’t Cheers, but I liked it that way. Back then, I still thought I was Queen Shit of Turd Island. And then one night, I looked up and saw Ron. I met his eyes with an icy glare. What in the hell was this creep doing in my bar?
“What are you doing here?” I demanded.
“I came to apologize. I was really a jerk on the phone. I was just a little out of it, you know?”
I hesitated. He looked sincere. After all, he was only a kid, about 22, and maybe he had just had too much to drink and decided to do a little prank calling. Maybe I was overreacting. When I was younger, I had done a few things I was less than proud of. I relented.
“All right, Ron. It’s OK. Whatever. Just don’t do it again.”
“OK. I’m sorry. Can I get a drink before I go?”
“OK, but only one.” Whatever, I thought. As long as he leaves quickly and I don’t have to deal with him again. He ordered a shot of whiskey (lucky for him) and sat staring straight ahead, drinking it.
An hour went by. I was whizzing back and forth, bantering with the customers and slinging brews, all the while wondering how long Ron was going to nurse his drink. I passed by him, and he half-whispered, half-muttered something that I couldn’t make out.
“Whiskey,” He grunted, still staring ahead.
“No, Ron, I said one drink! You gotta go now. I mean it, OK?” He turned his eyes to me. They were dark and empty.
“There’s a hairball in my cleavage,” he said, serious as a heart attack. I laughed, a little nervously.
He glared at me and repeated, louder this time, “There’s-a-hair-ball-in-my-cleav-age,” over-enunciating each syllable. I looked around to see if any of the patrons were paying attention to this bizarre little tableau. I decided it would seem hysterical to call for help just because some guy had used the word “hairball” in front of me. I backed up a bit.
“What?” I sneered. He sighed as if he were explaining something to a small child.
“The book! The book you left in the bathroom! You’re trying to instigate a relationship with me! Stop trying to seduce me!” I frowned a moment and then finally remembered a Bloom County book that had been in the shop’s bathroom for months. There was a picture of Bill the Cat with a beautiful woman, who was saying, “His kisses are divine, but oh, those hairballs in my cleavage!” I blinked in disbelief—this was what he was talking about?
“For the last time, Ron, I don’t want to have anything to do with you! Get out!” I slammed my hand down on the bar in front of him. For a petrifying moment, he looked at me blankly. Then he got up and walked down the stairs. Looking back, I think this is where I made my first mistake. I never should have engaged him, even for a single second. After four years of researching the stalking phenomenon, I now understand that any show of interest, however small, is enough to permanently position you at the center of a stalker’s obsession. Simply talking to him, even to rebuke him, was a form of encouragement.
It will probably not surprise you to learn that that night was not Ron’s last visit to the bar. Later on, he would slink in out of nowhere, I would confront him, and he would leave without an argument. But he’d still come back, wandering in as though he hoped I’d forgotten that he wasn’t allowed back. He just kept doggedly trying to get through the line of regulars who blocked his path—and helped throw him out. I was gratified by their loyalty, but a little unnerved by the concern that lay behind it. How much trouble is this guy going to be?
After he managed to slip in a few times despite our best efforts, I started to lose a little of my usual sassy attitude. It began to wear on me, never knowing if I was going to turn around and find him staring at me with his weirdo visage. A bar that used to feel like a home away from home for me had suddenly become space I had to defend. I was always watching the stairs to see who was coming up. But I was still pissed off, not scared. Not yet.
One night after I closed up, I descended the steps to see Ron sitting at the downstairs bar. Shit. I had already sent my beer ‘n’ shots crowd home and suddenly felt horribly alone. He hadn’t seen me yet—he was doing his trademark staring into the mirror that hung behind the bar. Of course, he had been sitting there waiting for our little chance meeting. I squared my shoulders and marched quickly toward the door, but he saw me in the mirror and called my name. He leapt up, but the bartender grabbed his wrist and reminded him that his tab was unpaid. That bought me a little time—I made it out the door and to the other side of the street. I jumped in a cab just as he burst outside, still shouting for me. I twisted in the back seat and stared out the window at him as we drove away. I hadn’t realized that I was holding my breath until I puffed out a long sigh.
The experience unnerved me enough that I almost didn’t notice when the cab reached my street. I paid the fare, said good night to the driver, and stepped toward my row house. I was just closing the door behind me when I heard a car idling outside. I looked out my window and felt myself go cold. There, in front of my home, I saw Ron hunkered down in the back seat of a taxi. He was staring right at me.
My panic rose, and I slid down next to the window, swearing softly as I realized that he now knew where I lived. I spent the next few hours smoking cigarette after cigarette and watching the same cab go up and down my street, over and over again in front of my house.
The night eventually passed, but it was far from over. I received frequent, maniacal phone calls from Ron over the next year. I considered changing my phone number, but I had four housemates to consider at the time. In a fit of bravado, we decided to tolerate Ron’s calls—it would be a pain to inform our friends of the change because we were all, of course, terribly popular. We were not quite making it from paycheck to paycheck and considered caller ID a luxury. (Later, we would consider it a necessity.)I haughtily declared that Ron’s antics should not affect our lives—although, now that I think back, I realize that I had stopped answering the phone. The thrill of potential adventure I had formerly felt upon hearing the phone ring was slowly replaced by a gloomy unease that left me unable to pick up the receiver. I missed some important calls, and those are conversations I still regret not having.
I spent a lot of time during 1995 and 1996 trying to convince myself that I was OK, but at 26 years old, I could feel my sense of individual importance slowly dissolving.
Ron left frequent answering-machine messages that had no real pattern. Sometimes they were weird, nonsensical treatises, accusatory and rambling, definitely creepy, but not exactly life-threatening. Certainly not enough for the authorities to care—and not enough to motivate me to file a report.
Then he started showing up at the store and lurking on the sales floor, peering at me. It was a busy place, and he often got by without anyone’s seeing him. I felt him even when he wasn’t there.
One day, I was stocking shelves and sensed someone standing behind me. Minutes went by, and I realized the same person was still standing over my shoulder. I scooted to the right a bit, thinking perhaps he was trying to look at the shelf I was blocking. I heard the rustle of his pants as he shifted with me. Oh my god oh my god, I thought frantically, Oh my god it’s Ron. It has to be. He’s right fucking behind me! The breath left me, and I stared straight ahead at the shelves, immobilized by something I couldn’t explain. In that split second, I finally understood that my life would never be the same.
I wheeled around with an inadvertent shriek, thrusting my arms out defensively. A middle-aged customer flinched and backpedaled a few steps, staring at me. I stared back at him, my mouth hanging open, and fumbled through an apology. I walked to the back of the store, silently chastising myself for the girly little noise I’d blurted out.
Fuck. All those years of martial arts, and when I think I need it most, I hold my arms out in front of me like the Bride of Frankenstein and make pipsqueak barks like a Chihuahua. I competed in martial arts tournaments, for godssake—and after all that, I freeze up in Aisle 3? You have got to get a hold of yourself, girl.
As the weeks and months wore on, I started to imagine people, especially men, looking a little too carefully at me. I became challenging and belligerent in the face of innocent flirting. My habit of making eye contact with everyone morphed into a wildly defensive approach to life. At work, I began spending less and less time on the floor and more time shielding myself behind the front counter. The boys in the shop were protective to the point where the only way I knew that Ron had been in the store was when I spotted one of the employees hustling him out. He managed to sneak up behind me once when I was out on the floor, but I noticed him at the last second. It was all I could do to keep myself from breaking into a dead run.
But it didn’t always work that way. Several times I looked up from the register to see Ron standing across the counter from me, and each time I flinched so violently that I felt as if my feet had actually left the ground. But he would just look pointedly at me for a moment, then turn and leave. It was as if he were reminding me: Yes, I’m still around, and you’d better not forget it. And I didn’t. I started rushing to get places and then staying inside as long as I could.
By this time, I had become skilled at convincing the other workers to pick up my lunch or go to the bank for me, never really wanting to admit that I was frightened. Those little errands that are part of the rhythm of life drifted away. At the store, we called the police and filed the standard trespassing order, but Ron was often in and out before we noticed him. My co-workers and I tried to make light of it, composing official anti-Ron manifestoes and rewriting the lyrics to popular songs to include rude stanzas about him. (Our favorite was “Stalker Ron” sung to the tune of “Chaka Khan.”)
And then, just as suddenly as it had begun, it stopped. After October 1996, Ron disappeared for two years. I heard a rumor through the store’s grapevine that he’d been sent to some nuthouse in the Midwest. I wanted so badly for the rumor to be true that I didn’t investigate it further. I still don’t know for sure where Ron went during that time.
I relaxed a bit, but it took a good while to loosen up that knot of vague, constant anxiety I’d been carrying around in my gut for a year. I had a brief return to normality. I no longer balked in the supermarket at the sight of a light-haired fellow in the produce section. I even relaxed enough to make a date or two with an attractive friend-of-a-friend.
Now, I wouldn’t wish Ron on my worst enemy, but in a secret, shameful way, I hoped that his absence meant that he’d moved on to someone else. My problems with Ron were on hold for the time being—he’d slipped to the back of my mind and now merely pulsed there quietly.
On a bright day in the fall of 1998—in the midst of my favorite kind of Washington weather—I returned home from work and noticed an odd package in the mail on the hall table. A manila envelope. I picked it up, and my heart seized. It was from Ron, with his name and address clearly written in the corner. Suddenly, it was 1995-1996 again. I squeezed my eyes shut for a moment and then forced myself to look again at the envelope. According to the return address, he was living in Maryland.
I stared at the package, unable to move. Should I open it? I squeezed it—it just felt like folded paper. I opened it and found a two-page letter full of nonsense, just ramblings and insinuations. It was almost a poem, sprinkled with “You know why [insert delusional secret here]” and “I know you [insert weird accusation here].” Seeing his jagged handwriting on the paper in front of me made my stomach lurch; for a second, I thought I would vomit. I clamped my hand to my mouth and took deep breaths until it passed. I stomped up the stairs and into the room where I’d lived for the past five years. I stood there for a second, looking around and not really knowing why. It was almost as if I didn’t recognize the place.
As the year passed, I received more letters, increasingly weirder and scarier. My sister, Kitty, put them in a file labeled “Stalker” and tucked them away in her immaculately ordered room adjoining my clothing-strewn boudoir. We spent our evenings studying the history and psychology of stalking. We sat cross-legged on her bed like when we were kids and pored over magazines and case studies the way we used to tear through Tiger Beat and S.E. Hinton. We browsed true-crime paperbacks until the wee hours, surrounded on all sides by empty Diet Coke cans and overflowing ashtrays. Now that Ron was back with a vengeance, we thought we had a criminal case for sure—this was textbook. He made the same kinds of threats in the same kinds of ways as the stalkers in the material we’d read. One Friday, after receiving a particularly vivid letter from Ron, we decided we had enough evidence to go to the police.
Why didn’t we go before? you might wonder. Well, if you have to ask, you don’t live in D.C. The police detectives are overloaded with serious cases—harassment charges hover right near parking tickets on the urgency scale. Even before I took my bundle of letters down to the station, I knew that truth to be self-evident. But I was truly frightened and feeling self-righteous. Upon arriving, I was referred to robust, fast-talking Detective Biggs, who listened to my story, photocopied the letters, and made a file on my psychotic paramour. He then handed back my package of letters and gave me his card, telling me to call when I heard from Ron again.
We can't make City Paper without you
I tried to reason with Detective Biggs. By now, I had read quite a bit about stalkers, and I tried to emphasize that this was a serious case. I pointed out that Ron attributed various crimes to me and believed he was the only one who could see what I was up to. He believed I sent him secret messages in his head telling him to do things. He had sent me printouts from the Internet about the Capitol shootings and the beating death of Matthew Shepard with scribbled things in the margins. He had accused me of being responsible for these deaths and for the deaths of more than 1,000 other people in the United States. He believed that he, and only he, must be the one to stop me, and then the world would finally see. This, I told the cop, was the kind of psycho who did more than write letters.
My voice quavered a bit as I recited these details, thinking that the detective would surely see the implied threat and look into the matter further. He listened, but said I had to hang tight until an actual death threat occurred. This gave me a couple of options: I could keep getting Ron’s mail and phone calls and see if he threatened me by those means—or I could refuse his mail and change my number and hope that the threat (or worse) didn’t occur
I chose the former. I remembered that when I had cut off remote contact with Ron before, he had been compelled to come see me in person: Not answering his calls had prompted his visits to the store, and I didn’t want that to happen again. Besides, I’d heard and read too much about the usual outcomes to risk cutting him off.
My self-initiated studies of stalkers had taught me a lot about how rapidly men with his type of psychological disorder deteriorate once they hit their mid-20s. He displayed every symptom, behavior, and pattern described in the cases of paranoid schizophrenia I’d read about. I could see the menacing escalation in his letters as time went by. By now, Ron was 25 years old.
I left the station dejected, but I consoled myself by rationalizing that I at least had a report on file to show my concern. I spent a distracted cocktail hour talking with my best friend, Rita, bewildered at how the laws were set up to protect Ron and not me. Me! I was so charming, so smart! I was kind and fun, and Ron was just a dork who couldn’t hold down a part-time retail job. We glumly sipped our drinks, unsure how to proceed. When we left the bar, it was almost dark, and I reluctantly hailed a cab home, telling myself I was just too tired to walk the few blocks. But secretly I knew. For the first time in my life, sunset in my beautiful city looked sinister.
For the next few months, I heard nothing from Ron—but I was now familiar with his patterns. There would be a flurry of activity, then a period of dormancy lasting as long as he saw fit. Despite Ron, the summer of my 30th year was among the best of my life—I made lasting friendships I continue to treasure. But it pains me to know that the year that produced those blessings will be most memorable as the time I changed, the year that the stranger who frightened me the most was myself.
One Friday afternoon in August 1999, I returned home from another gab session with Rita, and as always, the first thing I did was check the caller ID. I sat down in the chair by the phone and pressed the forward button through a host of numbers—some familiar, some not—just the usual assortment of aimless Saturday callers. Work, Mom, pals—until I got to the last one, the one placed just minutes before I walked in. Ron’s phone number blinked placidly up at me as I stiffened in my seat, slowly placing the unit on the table. Oh please, please, let it be a hang-up.
“This is Ron,” he began as I slumped in my chair, dreading what might come next. “You don’t deserve this, but I believe in giving people a fighting chance,” he half-whispered. His youthful voice had deepened, but the sneering, self-satisfied tone remained. He accused me of imprisoning him, of causing the deaths of several members of his family. He then suggested that I needed to have a conversation with my family because of what was going to happen to me. He warned me to watch my back, “because you’re in the paperwork….You’re embedded in the paperwork.” I hung up the phone and practically ran upstairs to Kitty’s room. I was shaking a little and sat down hard on her bed.
“Ron called,” I said.
She stared at me a second, then got up and went to her filing cabinet. “I didn’t want to show you this, but I guess I should have.” Kitty turned around and reluctantly held out a familiar-looking manila envelope. “It came a couple of days ago.” She looked over my shoulder as I slid the contents out into my lap. It was a large folded sheet of shiny paper, a color Xerox of a photograph with the picture side out. I spread it open on my lap and looked down at it. It was a family scene, perhaps taken at a reunion. There were several dozen people of widely varying ages arranged professionally on risers. I was drawn immediately to a figure in the back row. He was young, dressed in a suit, and smiling broadly at the camera, looking every inch the dutiful son. I touched the picture with my fingertips.
“That’s him—that’s Ron,” I whispered.
“I know,” she said quietly. “Turn it over.” I carefully flipped the picture over, and in the middle of the clean white page were three words: “THEY ARE WAITING.” My sister and I looked at each other as we slowly realized the meaning of today’s phone call. “These are the people he thinks you killed,” she said, probably not noticing that she was whispering.
We decided to go back to the police. On the way, Kitty apologized for keeping the letter from me. “I didn’t want you to be upset,” she said. “I’ll promise not to do it again—unless you want me to.”
“No,” I finally decided, “just tell me.”
At the station, we were told that Detective Biggs wasn’t in—the desk sergeant said he was out on a call. We asked if someone else could take the report, but that was out of the question. We settled for leaving the detective a message. Deflated, we returned home and waited for an hour, then called. He was still out, we were told, so we continued to call hourly until the desk sergeant finally admitted that our detective wouldn’t be in for another two days.
“Well, that’s just great,” Kitty huffed, stomping around the living room. “What a fucking waste of time.” The next two days dragged by, and I spent a lot of time with Rita, either at her apartment or at post-work happy hours, as I tried to ignore my growing dread at the prospect of returning to my house. Sunday finally rolled around, and first thing that morning I called the police station. “He’s not in yet,” the woman who answered the phone said. “Try back later.”
“When do you expect him? Can I leave a message?” I persisted, but she just sighed and told me to call again that afternoon.
We ended up distracting ourselves with chores that morning, calling the station frequently and getting nowhere. Kitty’s irritation grew as she bustled around our dusty old house, cursing each time she glanced at the clock. In the late afternoon, she called once more, and I jumped when she finally slammed down the phone. “You’re not going to believe this,” she began, crossing her arms. The detective was off duty that day.
Kitty was furious. She went out to do her errands, and around dinner time I settled in to watch TV in the den. I was engrossed in crappy UPN fare when the phone jingled. I leaned over to see who it was and winced as Ron’s number flashed onto the caller ID screen. I flopped back onto the couch and listened to the phone ring itself out. Oh man, I thought, what do I do now? Should I check my messages? I rolled over onto my stomach and groaned. I’ll check in a minute, I decided, and I closed my eyes.
I tried to nap, but Ron nagged at me, like something you see out of the corner of your eye, or that mysterious high-pitched noise you hear when the TV is on in the other room. I finally sat up and grabbed the phone, punching the numbers mechanically as my heart beat faster and faster. I had one new message. There was a brief silence before he began, with a long, ragged intake of breath: “It’s meee again!” He snarled. He was laughing, delighted. “There’s nothing you can do,” he cackled. “I’m going to call you and harass you every single day. I’m never going to leave you alone. You’ll have to leave the country to get away from me. The cops can’t do anything, and you know it. I could come into the store and blow a hole in your head and walk out of any court. No one would dare convict me.” My eyes watered as he went on, “Go ahead, bitch! Get a restraining order! I want you to get one so you’ll be forced to admit to your felonies. I’m going to call you every five minutes for the rest of your life….”
I sat shaking on my sofa and listened to Ron rant. This was worse than he’d ever been. Something was different. Until now, he’d delivered his hate messages in a creepy, conspiratorial monotone. Now he was furious—spewing sexual insults and threats. I grew numb listening to the seemingly never-ending list of things he’d like to do to me. He had a weird adolescent twang to his voice and was incredibly fond of the word “pussy.” It was as if a malevolent, misogynistic Beavis had climbed down out of the TV and was wandering around my life, casually spreading evil. My call waiting was madly beeping the whole time I listened, and the caller ID indicated that it was Ron again, calling to share some more choice scenarios. I waited as he piled more invective into my voice mail. Then I dialed my best friend.
Rita listened to the rest of the voice mail herself, by remote. She called me back 15 minutes later.
“You wouldn’t believe the shit this guy is saying,” she fumed.
“Is it bad?”
She paused. “It’s bad. He says some really scary stuff.”
“I’m not sure if I want to hear it,” I said.
“I really don’t think you should.”
Ron’s phone calls persisted throughout the evening, and Rita kept me posted on the murderous content of his messages. We decided to allow him to continue calling. It was scaring me shitless, but now, finally, Ron was hitting a home run. By threatening to blow a hole in my head, we figured, he was giving me something real, something tangible, that I could take to the cops.
I spoke to Rita on the phone for the last time
at 8 p.m.
“You have to get out of that house,” she said. “You have to go to the police—right now.”
I let her words sink in, and all of a sudden everything stopped. Something was happening to me. I struggled to light yet another smoke but could barely figure out how to work the matches. Funny, I thought, I used to be able to do this—I was barely aware of my best friend’s voice droning in the receiver. Hmm…I thought, maybe I’ll just put the phone down…over…here. On the table. Yes, a very good spot. I sure do need to lie down. I closed my eyes and lay back on the couch.
Rita rang my doorbell minutes later, and I managed to stumble to the door and let her in. Four years of pushing my fear away, and now it was pushing back. I felt drugged, empty. She paged my sister.
By the time Kitty returned home, I was somewhere else entirely. I barely managed to tell her what had happened. Rita filled her in on the details of Ron’s messages well out of my earshot. Kitty wanted to hear the messages for herself, so Rita sat in the den with me while my sister checked the voice mail from the kitchen phone.
We left for the police station together as soon as she was done. I stared out the car window while Rita and Kitty hollered back and forth in the front seat, loudly proclaiming their mutual fury until we screeched to a halt in front of the station. We knew our original detective was off-duty, but we thought Ron’s recent monkeyshines were worth some attention from the first cop we saw.
Rita and Kitty left me in the lobby and immediately asked to get my case reassigned. No offense to our original detective, Kitty explained, but he seemed so busy. Couldn’t we talk to someone in the meantime? The answer was no.
They persisted, their voices rising with frustration. In the end, they were told to come back in the morning. I watched them turn from the desk and walk back toward me, knowing that they had heard something on Ron’s messages that I hadn’t. Whatever it was, I didn’t want to know. They sat down on either side of me, bringing me up to date, when an off-duty officer approached. He had been at the desk when Kitty and Rita were pleading their case—my case—and must have heard some of the gorier details. We handed him the letters and ran through the list of the calls. Again.
“Have you heard of a book called The Gift of Fear?” the cop said quietly. Indeed we had. The three of us had read Gavin de Becker’s important work on stalking crimes the year before. It had been instrumental in helping us understand some of the patterns and psychology of stalkers. More important, it emphasized trusting intuition when dealing with a potentially dangerous individual. Almost all of the stories that turned out really badly were eerily similar to mine. As I read the book, I had found examples of my own situation on every page. Things I’d done and their outcomes. Ron’s reactions. Right there on the page. It was all about me. It was all about him.
This was a cop who knew what we were dealing with. We asked him if he would advise getting a protective order. Many times, especially when the stalker is mentally ill, a restraining order only aggravates the situation, because the stalker sees any kind of contact as either encouragement, a threat, or a challenge. What we had read suggested that the period after a restraining order is served is a very dangerous time.
The officer was supportive. “Crazy guys like these are the worst,” he said. “You never can tell what sets them off.” We all agreed that it wasn’t worth the risk. I suddenly remembered reading about a murdered woman found with her restraining order knifed to her chest. The cop told us to tape all of Ron’s messages and left us with one final thought:
“You need to protect yourselves from this guy,” he said in a low voice. “By any means necessary. Know what I mean, ladies?”
We knew what he meant. Gun ownership is illegal in the District, but then again, so is picking out a relative stranger and deciding to kill her. The officer stood up and gave us a little wave as he turned and left the station.
When we got back to the house, Kitty prowled around with a tire iron and flashlight while I trooped up to my room. “Come get me, motherfucker!” I could hear her screaming as she stormed around downstairs, theatrically slamming doors and closets. I found myself smiling, knowing it was all for my benefit. My sister, a tattooed disciple of frontier justice, is nobody to fuck with. Especially when you screw with her little sister.
The next day we both called in sick to work—something neither of us could afford. We had recently purchased the shabby old row house we loved and had lived in for years. The mortgage was low—the place was a dump, really—but it was still a lot of money for a retail clerk and a freelancer to come up with each month.
On the way to the station to see Detective Biggs, we picked up Rita, and she showed us the federal and local stalking laws she had printed out from her computer, with the appropriate passages highlighted in yellow. At the station, the front desk called the detective down, and he ushered us into the back of the lobby. We sat in the common area and explained the latest developments, saying we thought that Ron was on the verge of a big step that might turn out badly.
Detective Biggs asserted that since no direct threat on my life had been made, no police action could be taken. What Ron had done so far wasn’t really against the law, he said.
Rita thought otherwise. She pulled out her copy of Title 22, Section 504, and began reciting:
Assault or threatened assault in a menacing manner. ‘Harassing’ means engaging in a course of conduct either in person, by telephone, or in writing, directed at a specific person which seriously alarms, annoys, frightens, or torments the person, or engaging in a course of conduct either in person, by telephone, or in writing, which would cause a reasonable person to be seriously alarmed, annoyed, frightened, or tormented.
She cleared her throat and continued:
Stalking—Any person who on more than one occasion engages in conduct with the intent to cause emotional distress to another person or places another person in reasonable fear of death or bodily injury by willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly following or harassing that person, or who, without a legal purpose, willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or harasses another person, is guilty of the crime of stalking.
Detective Biggs shook his head sadly: “I know the law says it’s illegal. And since it’s across state lines, even more so.” He looked us in the eye, each in turn. “But if we take it to court it will just be thrown out. I’ve been a detective for 20 years,” he said. “We need a direct death threat.”
“But he’s after me,” I blurted in desperation. “He wants to kill me!”
“He thinks, uh…” Kitty looked at me carefully. “He says she gave him HIV. He told her she’s the reason for everything that’s gone wrong in his life, why he can never get married or have children.”
I had stopped listening to the messages before this stuff popped up, but the cop needed to hear it, so I went along for the ride. “He says he’s going to beat her and rape her, with no legal consequences because he’s superior, and that she’s an animal. Among other things.”
“Does he have HIV?” the detective asked me.
I frowned, bewildered. “I, I, I don’t know. I never even shook the guy’s hand.”
He looked surprised. He leafed through his notes, muttering to himself. “I thought he was your boyfriend or something.” We were horrified and let out a big, sneering “Eeeeewww!” The detective laughed and said, “Most of these cases are with an ex-spouse or boyfriend. You almost never see them targeting a stranger.”
“Lucky me,” I sighed. We offered our tapes, but they were garbled, almost unlistenable.
“Couldn’t you call our voice mail from here and listen to them?” Kitty demanded. Detective Biggs declined, saying we needed to get a usable tape and come back again. “Does he ever actually say the words ‘I’m going to kill you’?” he asked.
“Well, no,” Kitty said carefully. “Not those exact words. But he definitely threatens her life in other ways.”
“Tell you what,” he began, easing himself up out of his chair. “I go see the prosecutor tomorrow. I’ll discuss this with her and see what happens. But don’t get your hopes up.”
The three of us returned to the house, and Kitty went off to buy a more high-tech tape recorder as Rita and I sat in my living room talking about a Plan B, as long as we were getting mightily stiffed by Washington’s finest.
In Ron’s first message that Friday—the only one of the series I’d actually heard—he’d spoken of David Koresh, missile silos, and government buildings. Because his tirades went on for 10 or 15 minutes per call, it was hard to pick out the threats from the stream-of-consciousness ramblings about God and vengeance. At one point, he mentioned something about plans for a bomb, at one point something about the Internet. We had a surge of hope. Wasn’t that federal territory? Didn’t they have to take all threats like that seriously, no matter how wacky?
We called the FBI first, and after being transferred hither and yon, we spoke to a nice fellow who echoed the detective’s words—sorry, but no dice until a concrete threat is logged. Harassment across state lines was indeed a crime, though. Maybe we should call the postal inspector.
The guy we reached at the Postal Service was charmingly indignant about the disturbing mailings I’d received. Legally, there wasn’t much he could do, but he did offer to go to Ron’s house and explain why, exactly, he shouldn’t be sending obscene, threatening missives to a nice young lady like me. I declined, but I was grateful for his paternal interest in my personal welfare.
The CIA was a dead end, Ron not being a terrorist or anything. We weren’t entirely surprised.
Kitty told me to go up to my room while she re-taped the calls with the new equipment so I wouldn’t overhear anything. I told her that she and Rita were being a little overprotective, but I grudgingly agreed, embarrassed at how secretly thankful I was. I stretched out on my bed to read, but must have dozed off. Next thing I knew, Kitty was gently shaking me awake.
“I’m going to work,” she whispered. “Are you going to be OK?”
“I’m fine,” I mumbled, and turned over on my stomach, already almost asleep again.
“I called and left a message with the detective about the tapes, so try to get the phone, OK?” She closed the door behind her as she left. I could hear her pause outside in the hallway for a second, listening, before she went on downstairs.
Later that evening, I had my first panic attack. It was nothing in particular that caused it, just the weight of all the bullshit finally knocking me on my ass. Out of nowhere, I had trouble catching my breath. Struggling to inhale, I sat up in bed, gasping as I felt my throat closing up. I lost feeling in my hands and lips—soon they were so numb it felt as if they were vibrating. I was terrified—I didn’t know what was happening. I lurched down the hall as my entire body quivered with tiny, uncontrollable muscle spasms. I tumbled into the bathroom and fell to my knees on the floor, pushing aside the shower curtain and groping for the faucet. Cold water surged over my head and ran down my neck as I vomited, heaving and choking. My head felt as if it were being squeezed flat, and I couldn’t seem to sit still. Should I call 911? My heart was thumping a mile a minute. I must have food poisoning or be dying somehow, I thought.
I don’t know how long I lay there, but when I finally managed to pick myself up, I was aching and soaked in sweat. I turned off the water and shuffled back down the hall, sniffling and poking gingerly at several unexplained sore spots. What on earth was that about?
The next morning, I crawled into bed with my worn-out older sister—she hadn’t yet been home when I’d gone for a glass of water around 2 a.m. It was now only 7 o’clock, but I’d been awake for hours, pacing quietly around the house until the sun finally rose.
“Hi, Tiny!” she murmured happily, draping her arm over me.
“I don’t feel so good,” I whispered, tears starting in my eyes. She sat up, instantly awake, and stared down at me. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know. I just feel really awful, like I’m freaking out. Something’s wrong with me.”
She looked angry and a little worried; she wasn’t used to seeing me cry. Neither was I, for that matter. I almost never cried—not after being dumped, not after taking a bad kick in sparring class, not at Steel Magnolias. Well, maybe at the end of Harold and Maude, but in general, I was a rock.
“How are you breathing?” she asked.
“Not so well.”
“Panic attack,” she said firmly. “Classic panic attack. Just relax—it’ll ease up in a minute.”
I lay in her bed breathing hard as she rummaged on the nightstand for her address book. “We’re going to call my shrink, Dr. Rhodes,” she announced. “We’ll get you some anti-anxiety drugs.” Kitty was a mild hypochondriac, delighted to rummage through her many thick tomes of symptoms and side effects in search of potential ailments. Stalker-itis wasn’t specifically listed.
We made an appointment to see Dr. Rhodes the following morning. I thought maybe he’d at least give me some sedatives. Kitty went to work, and I spent an anxiety-filled day at the shop. I was so nervous and distracted that they sent me home early with a care package and instructions to get some sleep. I was barely in the cab before my eyes filled with tears again, and I cried all the way home. Their small act of compassion in letting me take the afternoon off was all it took to send me over the edge. I had gone from one of my shop’s go-to employees to its resident basket case.
When the cab dropped me off, I raced up the stairs, embarrassed by my outburst. An agitated afternoon passed. I couldn’t sit still, and I felt as if the house were crushing me. I didn’t want to stay there, but I couldn’t seem to get out of the front door, either. Even the summer afternoon seemed gruesome; my leafy street looked phony and creepy in the bright sunlight. I should call Rita, I thought. She’ll know why I’m freaking out—but the idea of talking on the phone made me indescribably weary. “I don’t know what to do,” I said aloud to myself. My words echoed through the empty house. I finally sat on the stoop, halfway in, halfway out.
This is just how it’s going to have to be. I stayed there until Kitty came home. My butt hurt from the hard stone steps.
We went to bed early, and I was awake again, squinting at the mantel clock, by 4 a.m. I sucked down half a beer and dozed on the sofa until the phone rang. I looked at the caller ID to see Rita’s number, so I snatched up the receiver. “Sorry to call so early,” she said breathlessly. I looked at the clock. It was 7:30. “It’s OK,” I mumbled. “I was up—kind of. What’s going on? Are you OK?”
“I’m not trying to freak you out, but I just checked your voice mail. He left another long one,” she said cautiously. “Fifteen minutes. He said some bad stuff.” I realized I might spend the rest of my life drinking beer at 4 in the morning and puking into the tub.
I told her I wanted to know what he was saying. That’s the unsolvable equation of being stalked: You don’t want to know anything, and you want to know everything. Some freak decides that you are thinking of him every minute of every day, and then he works you until it comes true. You know he wants to kill you, and you know you want him dead. Not sometimes. Every minute of every day.
“He just says—well, at one point he says he’s going to—he’s going to shoot you in the face.”
I barely remember the rest of that day. I know that Rita fetched me in a cab and hustled me off to Dr. Rhodes’, where she did most of the talking while I just nodded and stared, shaking like a leaf on the therapist’s floral couch. He prescribed Prozac to calm my panic attacks and Trazidone to help me sleep, and I slowly realized that I was officially being medicated. Little Miss Prozac, out for a walk with her new chemical friends. Like a crazy person. Like Ron. He’s actually driven me crazy, I thought. This proves it.
I was beginning to think I’d been bested, that some nutjob had defeated the mighty warrior princess without even touching her. I’d lived a complicated life. I’d been mugged, beaten senseless by grown men. I’d fought, even lived on the street for a time. And now the wheels were popping off because some guy who liked to use the phone was threatening me. Ron was winning.
We ran into Kitty after returning home from the shrink. She had already checked and taped the new message. She had spoken to Detective Biggs, who had told her with no particular urgency to bring it down sometime. What better time than the present? We made another mad dash to the police station, where we discovered that Detective Biggs was out on another call. We were denied reassignment yet again. I sat in what was becoming my customary chair in the lobby and watched as my sister and best friend pounded the counter and wagged their fingers in weary cops’ faces.
We were screwed again. We slouched dejectedly in our chairs, trying to figure out our next move, when a handsome young officer started in our direction. “Whoa, baby!” Rita said under her breath as he approached. “Oh yeah,” Kitty muttered, eyeing him appreciatively. “This is why I really hang out at the police station!” Even I managed to giggle at that.
The studly cop had overheard Kitty and Rita’s tirade at the front desk and had come over to talk to us on his own. He introduced himself as Officer Montgomery and then sat down. “Sounds like the guy’s messed up, all right,” he said. “Is he your ex?”
Wow. Ron thought I had a thing for him. The cops thought I had a thing for him. I might be crazy, new meds and all, but I was pretty sure that I had not a single emotion beyond hatred for this guy I had never said more than a hundred words to.
We were stunned. Why did this keep coming up?
“It’s just extremely rare, that’s all,” he said. “No offense.” Wow, cute and a gentleman! Rita quickly assured him that Ron was not a jilted lover, and we were excited and incredulous at the cop’s unsolicited attention. He was tough but kind, just like the good cops on TV, and offered snippets of safety advice as Rita and Kitty filled him in, telling my story for the umpteeumpth time.
He asked to hear the tapes, so I stepped outside to smoke a cigarette. Several minutes later, they called me back in. We were further amazed when he excused himself, told us to stay put, and returned a minute later with a stack of forms. “Now, this is only a misdemeanor threat report,” he began, settling into a chair, “so don’t get too excited.”
Ah, chivalry is not dead. I watched his careful notations and told myself, You can trust this man. This man can help you. You should say something.
“He’s going to shoot me,” I said quietly. The officer looked sharply up at me.
“He says he’s going to shoot me. In the face. Doesn’t that count as a death threat? Isn’t that
“I’m afraid it doesn’t. It’s not a felony until he threatens to actually kill you. I know it doesn’t make sense, but that’s the way the law is written. Don’t worry, ma’am,” he said, looking me sternly in the eye. “Nothing’s going to happen to you.”
I don’t know what bothered me more, my growing certainty that he was wrong or the fact that a handsome young cop had called me ma’am. I was only 30, for godssake! I must really look like shit. I ran my hand through my hair. It was greasy and limp. Jesus, how long has it been since I showered? I couldn’t even remember.
“The charge is ‘Intent to cause bodily harm,’” Officer Montgomery said, standing up. My sister and Rita did the same, and he handed Kitty his card. “That’s the best we can do for now. And it’s a good idea to stay away from home for a while. Maybe a week, until this blows over. I want you to page me if he contacts you again in any way. Understand?” He turned to go, and as he passed the chair where I still sat, he reached out and gently patted my head a couple of times. I must have looked pretty pathetic.
“Well, I guess we’ll go out to Becky’s!” Kitty said cheerfully. “She’s got this big place way out in Virginia, and I’ve got the key. She’s out of town—it’ll be fun! Like a vacation!” She led us briskly out of the station.
“How will I get to work?” I pestered, following behind her. She stopped to unlock the car and looked at me carefully. “It’s probably not a good idea for you to go to work, either.” She glanced at Rita and then said, “He talks about coming, uh…#to get you at work. A couple times.”
We packed a week’s worth of stuff, or rather Kitty and Rita did as I called the shop in a daze and arranged to take a Ron-induced leave of absence. One hour and two stifling panic attacks later, Kitty and I arrived at Becky’s house. Kitty opened the door, called Rita with the phone number, and got me settled on the sofa with the remote control. I was getting a little tired of watching TV. Not that I expected to get my life back or anything—it was clear that it now belonged to Ron—but I would have liked to—oh, say, go to the bar and get drunk as hell, maybe dance a little. You know, routine stuff. Then again, Ron was out there, somewhere, and Becky had cable.
“I have to go back to work,” Kitty said. “But I’m contracted in Fairfax, so I’ll be close by if you need me.”
She looked at me sadly: “Are you OK?”
We both knew I was a drooling moron, but it’s the thought that counts.
The stillness and unfamiliarity of Becky’s suburban house soothed me, and I soon fell into an exhausted sleep under the battered old quilt. I awoke to hear Kitty announcing her return from the front hall. She returned a paging call from Rita, and I turned up the cable. I just wasn’t in the mood for more drama.
She came back into the room stomping and yelling: “Yeah! Motherfucker’s gonna get it now!”
“He said the magic words. He said, ‘I will kill you.’” Before I could react, she held out a hand to stop me. “But check it out—he said it on my voice mail!”
I called Rita to get the details while Kitty went up to shower. She was chanting, “Fel-o-ny! Fel-o-ny!” like a football cheer as she went. When Rita answered, my best friend’s voice was weary.
“You sound tired,” I said, feeling a little guilty.
“I’m tired, all right. I’ve been transcribing Ron’s calls onto paper,” Rita said. “I thought it would be easier for the cops to pick out the bad stuff if they didn’t have to listen to all the rambling in between.”
“I paged Officer Montgomery, and he’s going to meet us at the station tomorrow afternoon, OK?” Rita said. “I’m going to get some sleep—I’m pooped. Will you call Detective Biggs and let him know what happened?”
One of the gifts of my whole psychotic journey has been the durable kindnesses from all sorts of people, but Kitty and Rita were giving up their lives to look after mine. We used to not be able to find enough hours in the day for all the capers we planned. Now we spent our time analyzing the semiotics of voice mails left by a pervert.
The next day, Kitty and I made the long trek back to D.C. and met Rita at our home away from home, the police station. You could practically see the desk sergeants cringe as we walked through the door. We were starting to get on their nerves, I sensed as we asked to see Officer Montgomery. They called him on the radio, and we were outside smoking when he pulled up in his cruiser. He asked for a light, and we stood puffing on the stoop while Kitty filled him in. I think the officer found her zeal endearing. He read the transcripts and listened intently to the tape of Ron’s last call while I was out of earshot. We were finally able to fill out a felony death-threat report.
As we gushed our thanks, he offered the by-now-familiar cautionary note: “We still have to get it through the prosecutor to get an arrest warrant,” he said, “and stalking laws are pretty new, so it can be tough.”
We were secretly confident, though. We had everything we needed, all the proof, right? Seemed open-and-shut from where we stood. Officer Montgomery gave us the date when he was going to present the warrant request and sent us on our way with a few more words of support. It was all we could do to keep from flinging ourselves at his feet in gratitude.
We were jubilant as we drove Rita back to work. Finally, some results—shame we had to retreat back to the ‘burbs. I e-mailed some friends, vegged on the couch, and then decided to finally take a shower. I finished bathing and couldn’t figure out how to work the latch on the door frame. Immediately, I began hyperventilating in claustrophobic terror. Clawing frantically at the door, I almost scrambled over the top before finally managing to burst out. I stood in the middle of the bathroom, buck-naked, wet, and freaking out. I rocked back and forth, loudly blowing air through my fingers as I tried to keep my breathing steady. I started to black out.
When I woke up on the floor a few minutes later, I felt almost normal. Refreshed, even. I stood up and glided back into the living room. By the time I reached the sofa, I was exhausted again.
For days, I lay on Becky’s couch, spending the waking hours playing Solitaire on the computer, the nights wandering the house in silence. I pretended to be asleep when Kitty was around; I just didn’t feel like talking to anyone about anything. I hadn’t eaten more than a few crackers in almost a week—even imagining the act of chewing activated my gag reflexes. I sipped water and stared at the TV for hours, not really watching it.
On Sunday evening, Kitty phoned me from work and excitedly rattled off a phone number that a co-worker had given her. It was for the Montgomery County Mobile Crisis Intervention Unit. Ron lived in their jurisdiction, and she suggested that if the crisis people decided Ron was dangerous, they could go to his house, evaluate him on the spot, and, if necessary, take him away immediately.
The idea of telling my sad-sack story one more time shriveled my innards, but I finally picked up the phone. The woman who answered was sympathetic, and I was comforted by her warmth and concern. She listened to my trembling recitation of recent events and gently asked if there was anything I could fax over to her. I thought for a second and realized the phone transcripts might work. “Send them over,” she said. “I’ll call you right back.” I grabbed the Stalker file from Kitty’s bag and raced upstairs to Becky’s bedroom, where I’d seen a fax machine.
I opened the manila folder and was shocked to see the number of pages it held. I fed a handful through, trying not to look too carefully at them, but I couldn’t help seeing a few choice phrases as I operated the machine. I could almost hear Ron’s creepy monotone as I glimpsed the words: “Your mother is a whore….Your dad is a cocksucker.” How odd to see those vulgar words in Rita’s refined handwriting. I managed to get the stack of papers through the machine and hurried back down to the couch, where I perched nervously for the next 15 minutes. Why isn’t she calling? When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I called back.
The sweet-voiced woman apologized for not getting back to me sooner and said, “We sent a team out as soon as we got your fax. I’m so sorry this is happening to you, honey.”
I was stunned. I had been starting to question my objectivity, almost convincing myself that I was overreacting. But here was a mental health professional telling me that the transcripts were alarming enough to merit immediate attention.
“So what happens now?” I asked, trying to keep my voice calm.
“Well, the mobile team evaluates him, and if he’s a danger to himself or others, they take him away to the hospital.”
“Oh, jeez, that’s great! I mean, it’s not great, it’s just—well, you know what I mean,” I said, trying to dig myself out.
“It’s OK, honey. I sure do.” She told me the team should be at Ron’s any minute and that she’d call me as soon as they got back.
A couple of hours passed. I called Detective Biggs again and didn’t get a response. There was still no word from the crisis unit by the time Kitty returned, and we debated whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. We imagined Ron’s escaping and seeking us out for revenge, maybe trying to burn our house down. We had worked ourselves into a frenzy when the phone finally rang. I snatched it up. “Yes?” It was my new best friend from the crisis center.
“Well,” she began, “they got him.” I grinned at Kitty and gave her a thumbs-up.
“Can you tell me what happened?” I asked hopefully.
“Due to patient confidentiality, not really. I can tell you, though, that it was very clear he needed to be hospitalized immediately.” I took a deep breath.
“How long can they keep him?”
My heart sank when she sighed sadly. “I’m sorry, but only the family is allowed that information. What I can tell you is that the bare minimum is three days.”
Three days? Well, it’s better than nothing, I thought, and Ron’s so far gone he’ll probably need to be in there longer. I thanked her profusely and promised to write glowing letters to the administrators of her ass-kicking program. Kitty and I happily packed our bags and went on home. For the time being, anyway.
The next day, we finally heard from Detective Biggs. “Sorry,” he said. “But I was out working on real crimes.” If he was trying to be funny, it wasn’t working.
Detective Biggs informed us that the crime was considered too minor by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the warrant hadn’t gone through. He’d passed the case on to another detective, though. She’d be over to talk to us in a couple of days. We were used to being dismissed, but excited about the prospect of talking to a chick detective. With a mental picture of Ron trussed up in four-point restraints, I slept better than I had slept in a long time.
In the morning, I called the hospital where Ron was being held and spoke to the charge nurse of the psych ward. She confirmed that he was in their care. I briefly explained my situation, that I was the one responsible for the emergency call, and that I was at risk should he be released. I didn’t want any other info, I said, just his release date. Please, I begged her, I need to know when I have to pack up and leave again. She was sorry, but she couldn’t help me. She sounded a little sad, just like the woman at the crisis unit—just like all the people on the other end of the line at the numerous hotlines, shelters, and victim-support groups I’d called over the years. I thanked her and hung up.
Stymied, I took a chance and looked up the phone number of one of Ron’s brothers. I’d spoken to him once before, when the whole thing with Ron started, and although I didn’t know him well, William seemed like a nice enough guy. I hadn’t contacted him again for fear of complicating the situation—I thought if Ron found out I was talking to his brother, he would think I was initiating something.
I left him a message, pleading for his help. I knew William was going through a tough time with all this, I said, but could he please just find out Ron’s release date and I’d leave him alone. He called me back that evening. He was apologetic, although I assured him it wasn’t necessary. He told me they expected Ron to be in the hospital for a good long time.
“More than a week?” I asked, trying not to sound too eager. William wasn’t sure of the exact duration, but he thought Ron’s stay would be an extended one. He’d met the doctor himself, he said, and been told Ron’s prognosis was “not good.” We commiserated briefly, and then I hung up, smiling and shaking my head. One whole week without fearing for my life had become a treat. How pathetic is that?
Two days later, Kitty and I hurriedly tidied up the house and waited for our newly assigned detective to come over. Around noon the phone rang, and an energetic, no-nonsense voice shouted, “I’m right outside. Which house is yours?” We rushed to look out the front window, and there Detective Debra sat, straddling a noisily idling motorcycle. Coool.
Detective Debra was indeed cool. Sassy. She was bad. She fussed over Kitty’s tattoos and clucked in all the right spots when we told her the whole sordid story. As we were showing her out, the phone rang. She paused in the doorway.
“Let’s just see who that is,” she said, gesturing for me to answer the phone.
“Hello?” I said cautiously. It was William. “I’m so sorry to tell you this,” he began, “but Ron’s out.”
I covered my eyes with one hand, squeezing them shut. “What happened?” I sighed, exasperated.
“I don’t know who authorized it, but my dad somehow managed to get him out. I’m really sorry.” He promised to keep me posted, and we hung up.
“He’s out,” I said.
Detective Debra did a double-take. “Say what? They let that crazy dude out?”
“Fuck!” My sister yelled and slammed the front door shut. We returned to the living room and talked about a next step. Detective Debra promised to take a new arrest warrant to the prosecutor. She said she’d call us in a couple of days, as well as look into the possibility of a search warrant as well. In the meantime, she told us, we shouldn’t stay at home. “Dude is probably good and pissed-off now,” she said.
We promised to leave. She left us with wishes of good luck.
In the week that followed, Detective Debra’s work yielded more results than all of our previous efforts combined. She pushed hard for a search warrant for Ron’s house and contacted us daily to offer brassy one-liners of support. It was a remarkable change from the mostly indifferent policing we had enjoyed for the past four years.
We hit the jackpot in mid-August, when Detective Debra called and told me she’d checked Ron out and found out that he occasionally picked up more than the phone. “Child, you are not going to believe this!” she began. “Turns out your crazy-ass boyfriend was picked up earlier this year for possession of an illegal handgun!”
“What!?” I spat. The walls were closing in again, but this time it was anger, not fear, that was moving them. All this time, all these cops, and they didn’t even know that this motherfucker, who talked casually about shooting me in the face, had been picked up on a gun charge.
“Can you tell me what happened?” I was aware of the fact that Ron’s rights were tenderly protected while mine seemed to be of little consequence. Although she was circumspect, Detective Debra had managed to squeeze some information from an officer who had participated in Ron’s arrest.
“Turns out the guy was acting freaky in the parking lot of some store. Don’t know what he was doing, exactly, but it was enough for the people inside to call the cops. When the police showed up, Ron took off, and when they caught him they found a handgun shoved down his pants. They couldn’t hold him, though,” she said.
I pressed her for more details, but she hadn’t been able to get anything else out of the arresting officer. The bad news was obvious—Ron liked guns and hated me. The good news was that the gun charge would probably help push through a felony arrest warrant.
I was used to collapsing into a moist little heap of despair upon mention of Ron’s name or news of his latest shenanigans. But for some reason, I felt nothing but intense anger at the needlessness of all the hell I had been through in the past few weeks. If they had checked him out thoroughly from the start, the first warrant might have gone through. I could have maintained my health, my sanity, and my bladder control. Hell hath no fury like the wrath of a woman stalked. Here I was, worrying myself to a new body style, and the cops were out to lunch. When people commented on my new, waiflike physique, I joked weakly that I was on the “stalker diet. It’s great. You can lose weight and lose your mind at the same time!”
I smoked instead. If I could calculate the number of cigs I had pounded down since becoming acquainted with Ron, I’d be due a math degree. After Detective Debra called, I lit up the millionth or so, but then I realized it was the last one in the pack. I grabbed my mace-canister-festooned keychain and marched off to the corner store with a sawbuck clutched in my hand. You bet your ass I’m going to the store, I silently declared. This is my city.
The next day Detective Debra called and said the arrest warrant had gone through and she was working on a search warrant to go with it. There was some difficulty coordinating the D.C. and Maryland police units, so they’d set a date for the following Tuesday night. They were finally going to Ron’s house to arrest him. I immediately got on the horn and called the girlfriends I’d been neglecting for months to arrange for the stalker party.
We all got good and drunk that night, but, sadly, not in triumph. Around 11 p.m., Detective Debra called me and said no one was home at the spacious, expensive house Ron shared with his father. The cops lacked the search warrant that would let them enter without permission. Detective Debra said they would try again in two days.
Ron was nowhere to be found then, either. I had become accustomed to disappointment and hadn’t really expected much, but it was still disheartening. The mood didn’t last long. That weekend, Detective Debra got the search warrant approved. Finally, a peek inside the creep’s lair.
The search of Ron’s house turned up piles of freaky documents and letters addressed to me, but no Ron. Detective Debra couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me many details, just said they’d taken pictures and collected evidence that was now in the hands of the Maryland authorities.
She did tell me that a candid photo of me—taken outside, obviously without my knowledge—was among the little trophies they found. I wondered if I was smiling. I’m not anymore. The cops are on the case, but Ron is still at large.
I’m thinking of Ron’s dad right now. He is, I have come to know, a medical professional. I thought it only proper that I respond to Ron’s interest in my family members—specifically, in killing them—by checking his out. His dad the doctor, Mr. Hippocratic Oath, Mr. First Do No Harm, had checked his crazy kid out of the looney bin so that Ron could visit me anew with his special flavor of attention. What a good dad, looking after his son like that and all.
Of course, by setting his son free, he has put me back in prison. There is now a felony warrant out on Ron, but his whereabouts remain unknown. Maybe Dad stashed him in some out-of-the-way place. Maybe he pulled a Sheinbein and deposited him in a foreign country. Or maybe Ron is just smart enough to lay low for a while. That would be great—except I don’t know when he’s coming back. Just about the time I get my grip back, his phone number will show up on my caller ID or another one of his manila love offerings will come in the mail, and then it will all begin anew.
Now I know what you are thinking, dear reader: that I should give up everything and leave, start over. And my response to that is a very polite but firm “Fuck you.” This is my city, whether Ron lives in it or not. I belong here. I have sold you retail goods; I have poured you a drink; I have taken that last seat next to you on the Metro. And I am not giving up a life among family and friends just because some nutbag has taken a shine to me—and because the cops and the laws can’t do a damn thing about it.
Maybe Ron’s gone for good. Or maybe this story will fade and the next time you see me will be in one of those little stories in the middle of the paper, the kind that says, “[Insert my real name here] was found dead of multiple stab wounds. Police say they have a strong lead in the case and expect an arrest soon.”
Then and now, you will find comfort in the belief that somehow, in some way, I brought this on myself. Half of me, the crazy half, agrees with you. There must have been some perfect move I should have made early on before four years of my life went down the shitter. And maybe there was.
But what is the sane response to an insane situation? Nothing in my life—and it’s been a fairly busy one—prepared me for being stalked. Miss Manners doesn’t offer any protocols for being a stalkee that I am aware of. The only thing I knew to do was to lean hard on my friends, call the cops, call them again, call them again, again, and again. And when they couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything, just hang on for dear life.
You feel bad for me, but you know in your heart that it couldn’t happen to you. And that’s where you are wrong—and that’s where you are right. I was just like you. But I’m not anymore. CP